#SECPreviews: West- #4 Texas A&M Aggies
Texas A&M is, by far, the most difficult team to peg in the West. The difference between them potentially WINNING the division and finishing in the cellar can be answered in three questions:
– With the ridiculous amount of young talent on both sides of the ball, can a team that started (at times) 13 freshmen and sophomores mature?
– Can former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis fix an absolutely horrendous defense which allowed 36.6 points per game and netted the team -87.3 yards per game in conference play?
– Can Kyle Allen and the ridiculously talented receiving corps progress from ‘pretty good’ to ‘borderline unstoppable?’
What Happened Last Year?
Webster’s defines bipolar as follows:
1) having or marked by two mutually repellent forces or diametrically opposed natures or views;
2) having or involving the use of two poles or polarities.
That, more or less, describes the 2014 Texas A&M Aggies.
They started with an absolute bang, spanking South Carolina (refrained from saying ‘spanking the Cocks’) in front of a national audience and immediately jumping into the top 10 behind Kenny ‘Trill’ and 1094 yards, 11 TD’s and 0 picks in the first three games. Remember him? He’s gone.
After a 5-0 start, Trill and the Aggies dropped the next three by a combined 95 points, culminating in a 59-0 defeat at Alabama. Allen took over the next week against Louisiana-Monroe (Georgia’s opener, BTW) and struggled mightily, but the Aggies won 21-16. They then took to the road and beat then-#3 Auburn by 3, and lost close home games to Mizzou and LSU to close out the regular season.
In one of the most fun bowl games of the year, they upset West Virginia 45-37 and the offense was ROLLING. 235 on the ground, 294 through the air. It at least gives some credence to the possibility that, yes, this offense is ready to get back to the Johnny Manziel glory days.
Three Key Games
Sept. 5, vs. Arizona St. in Houston: Opening with a top-2o opponent and following with two patsies was a recipe for early success last year, and will tell us a lot about how far Chavis was able to take the defense in the offseason. There’s already a fantastic preview of this game out there, one which I hope to be able to imitate for the Dawgs this season: http://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2015/7/15/8915161/texas-am-arizona-state-game-2015-preview
Sept. 26, vs. Arkansas in JerryWorld: Another neutral-site game, the Aggies’ 35-28 OT win last year was predictive in both A&M’s shortcomings and Arkansas’ improvement. As the SEC opener for both squads, this is a table setter for the Ags, who follow with home games against Mississippi State and Alabama sandwiched around a bye.
Nov. 7, vs. Auburn: The schedule breaks out nicely for A&M, as Alabama/at Ole Miss is the only likely back-to-back top-25 opponent run on the slate. Holding serve at home (with the Arkansas game on a neutral site, they only have 3 true road games) would go a long way towards their case to win the West*.
*They are the fortunate souls that get Vanderbilt on the road, so four home wins + Arkansas + Vandy and they’re right there.
Five Players to Watch
Dude. So. Much. Talent.
DE Myles Garrett: The SEC’s next Jadeveon Clowney, with a massive head start. As a true freshman, he singlehandedly made the Aggies’ pass defense ‘passably awful’ instead of ‘Bombs Over Baghdad’. 53 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 10 QBH…and the whole DL returns, so it’s not as if you can double-team him on every play. His only weakness? An outie belly button. Good thing the NCAA outlawed belly jerseys.
S Justin Evans: Part of what made the Aggies’ pass D so unbearable was watching De’Shazor Everett get beat over the top, time and time again. Enter Evans, a highly-touted JuCo who immediately took the reins as the starting FS in spring practice, and pray things change.
WR’s Speedy Noil, Christian Kirk, Ricky Seals-Jones, Josh Reynolds: Of these guys, only Reynolds (who was the team’s offensive MVP with 842 yards and 13 TD last year) was not ranked in the top 5 at his position coming out of high school. The Arizona State preview linked above charts how these guys will be used, and it’s mildly terrifying. Oh, and only two are draft-eligible.
LT Avery Gennesy: Another JuCo (though he redshirted at A&M last year), he replaces three straight A&M LT’s who have been drafted in the first round, which is crazy. A big dropoff on Allen’s blind side may curtail the improvement from the rest of the offense, so his performance is going to be paramount.
QB Kyle Allen: Of course, you have the triggerman on here. Kevin Sumlin has been blessed by stellar QB play in his three years at A&M. Assuming Media Day reports are true and Allen has taken ‘the leap’, not only is Allen a legitimate Heisman threat, but these guys are going to be FUN to watch.
There are prognosticators bolder and better-informed than me picking A&M to win the West. If they can answer the three opening questions, they have the talent to do so.